Thursday, March 15, 2012/lk
A letter of apology to former fire chief Jeff Pricher is on the record but was not read aloud in Monday's Cascade Locks City Council meeting.
The letter (see full text below) was scheduled to be read into the record but Mayor Lance Masters announced at the start of the meeting that the item was taken off the agenda and the letter will be inserted into the record without an open reading.
After months of pressure from the former City Council, Pricher resigned in July 2011. His hours had been reduced by half and he received a demotion in spring 2011, and was regularly criticized in open meetings by former mayor George Fischer and then-members of council over alleged mishandling of department finances.
The letter from Masters to Pricher reads, in part, "It is with deep regret and a grateful spirit that I write this letter. The City shares in this regret and sincerely apologizes for the accusations that you have received regarding misappropriation of funds and malfeasance of office. It was an entirely regrettable situation and the city deeply apologizes."
The letter of apology was part of an out-of-court settlement between Pricher and the City of Cascade Locks. Two Cascade Locks citizens spoke in opposition to the letter.
Also in the meeting, Brad Lorang was sworn in as council member. Lorang, who was mayor from 2006-2010, was appointed last month to complete the term of Eva Zerfing, who resigned in February.
The council also gave unanimous consensus to a request for official support of a $500,000 grant request from the Cascade Locks Against Drugs group, which formed this year. The five-year grant would bring $125,000 annually to Cascade Locks for use in preventing abuse of alcohol and tobacco, along with an emphasis on educating children on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
On the Pricher apology letter, expressing their disagreement with its existence and contents were Gary Munkhoff and Larry Cramblett.
"I object to the letter," Munkhoff said. "The city should not be issuing documents that contain inaccuracies and misleading statements, as this one does."
Munkhoff cited the letter's praise of Pricher's training record and what happened in July 2011 after Pricher resigned, and most of the volunteer base also resigned.
"A fire department is like a paramilitary group, and when their leader goes down they have been trained to regroup and continue to function.
"They totally fell apart," Munkhoff said of the department. "You cannot say he provided excellent training. Maybe in some areas he did but he failed to provide full training."
Munkhoff also said the fire department went into the red under Pricher's watch, so the letter should not make any statement praising Pricher's responsible fiscal management.
Cramblett said the problems with the department while Pricher was fire chief were "not only about the fire chief."
Cramblett, whose brother Tom is on council, said, "It was about your current mayor, and you," he said, pointing to Lorang and referring to Masters, who was on council in 2009-2011 before being named mayor in October 2011.
"You did not control your fire chief. He's partly to blame and so are you," said Larry Cramblett, who also remarked that "my brother was also on council."
Cramblett stated that "the last council tried to make corrections and look what happened." (Tiffany Pruit, Don Haight, Kevin Benson and former mayor George Fischer were turned out of office in a September 2011 recall vote.)
Letter of apology from City of Cascade Locks to Jeff Pricher, entered into the official record during the March 13 City Council meeting:
"It is with deep regret and a grateful spirit that I write this letter. The City shares in this regret and sincerely apologizes for the accusations that you have received regarding misappropriation of funds and malfeasance of office," Mayor Lance Masters wrote in the letter.
"It was an entirely regrettable situation and the city deeply apologizes. We hope that the developments in the past few months have demonstrated our commitment to charting a new trajectory that will replicated the exemplary standards of service you have brought to the city.
"From many perspectives, it is clear that during your term of service to the community, you deported yourself in a very professional and exemplary manner. Your tireless commitment to this community as recognized by many, and is reflected in the excellent training and high degree of certification of our fire volunteers. The many hours you gave to this community were and are today appreciated.
"In the nearly seven years you served as our Fire Chief and paramedic, you successfully and professionally managed Emergency Service Department budgets totaling nearly $4 million. You were highly integral to the completion of a new fire hall for the community and the addition of new firefighting equipment and apparatus. These very important enhancements to the community could not have been achieved without your vision, leadership and hard work.
"Over the years you established yourself as a hard worker, always putting the community first and exhibited an innovative and resilient professionalism that has set a high standard of service in our community. Your commitment to serving the community will long be remembered and appreciated.
"You worked hard and cultivated positive and effective regional relationships that serve this community well to this day. Because of your hard work, our community enjoys the services of our regional partners.
"We thank you for your energetic and effective work to benefit this community. We will not soon forget all you helped us achieve."
Lance Masters, Mayor
(Feb. 24, 2012)
(Editor's note: The "developments of the past few months" refers to the reorganization of the fire department under interim chief Devon Wells, who was appointed in October. Serving with Wells are five senior officers, including Pricher, who still lives in Cascade Locks.)